Tram operators delay safer driver rotas till 2021 to save money

  • Tram operators delay introducing safer, shorter working hours for drivers for two years
  • Ten extra drivers on the network will cost £500,000 per year
  • TfL admits it has still to implement seven of 13 safety recommendations made following the Sandilands tram crash
  • Seven people died and 62 were injured, many seriously, when a speeding tram derailed in November 2016
  • Local MP has written to British Transport Police to discover why its criminal investigation into the crash has yet to be completed

FirstGroup, the company which operates the Croydon tram network on behalf of Transport for London, is delaying implementing shorter working weeks for its drivers until 2021, because of the cost of hiring new staff – despite driver tiredness being cited as a probable contributing factor to the Sandilands crash in 2016.

The introduction of a 35-hour working week for drivers emerged after the negotiations between Tram Operations Ltd (TOL) and the drivers’ unions which have averted further strike action this week.

Driver fatigue caused by demanding shift patterns was identified as a key factor that led to the Croydon tram crash.

It was early on November 9, 2016, when the tram, heading to Wimbledon from New Addington, was travelling faster than the local speed limits, and left the tracks just outside the Sandilands tram stop. It was the worst tram crash in this country for more than half a century, with seven people killed and 62 others injured.

The subsequent Rail Accident Investigation Bureau (RAIB) report into the Sandilands crash stated, “although there is no evidence that the driver’s shift pattern carried an exceptional risk of causing fatigue, it is possible that the driver had become fatigued due to insufficient sleep when working very early turns of duty”.

Nearly three years since the crash, and the tram operators and TfL have yet to implement all safety recommendations

Two of the RAIB’s 15 recommendations were concerned with automatically controlling tram speeds and technical interventions in the event that drivers might fall asleep or lose consciousness when at the controls.

The investigators suggested that the driver may have had a “micro-sleep” moments before the crash.

An in-cab driver monitoring device has since been fitted to all trams by TOL, but few other measures to avoid drivers becoming overtired when on-shift have been implemented.

ASLEF, the tram drivers’ union, has long argued that shorter working hours and better-managed work rotas are needed to avoid creating the circumstances which could lead to an accident. And while they have won agreement from management to address the issue, TOL won’t be employing additional drivers and implementing the new, safer rosters for another two years.

“It’s all about money,” a union source told Inside Croydon.

“Ten extra drivers will cost the company around £500,000 per year.”

Last week, at a City Hall transport committee hearing, ASLEF union official Finn Brennan told London Assembly members that since the Sandilands crash, “The company has done the very, very minimum.”

The full (2018 amended version) RAIB report and recommendations into the Sandilands crash is available by clicking here

The RAIB report also identified a corporate culture at Croydon Trams where reports of problems or failings by drivers were too often greeted with disciplinary action, to such an extent that drivers became reluctant to admit any errors. In one case cited by Brennan, a driver who admitted to management that he had broken a track speed limit not only lost his job but was also prosecuted by the company.


“Unless we have a culture that people feel supported we are not going to crack safety,” Brennan told City Hall. “We have a long, long way to go.

“Tram safety will not improve until there is a culture of support.”

TfL has admitted that seven of the 13 recommendations it is responsible for addressing are yet to be implemented.

It is not only the tram operators who are being questioned for dragging their feet, as Croydon Central MP Sarah Jones has written to the head of the British Transport Police over the long delays in that force’s investigation into the tram crash.

MP Sarah Jones’s letter to the British Transport Police

The letter is addressed to BTP Chief Constable Paul Crowther. In it, Jones says that family members of those killed have suffered “growing frustration with the long wait for answers”.

MP Sarah Jones visited the tram depot at Therapia Lane last week

The criminal investigation into the crash is still ongoing and no coroners’ investigation can take place until the criminal investigation is concluded.

The delay in criminal charges was recently described as a “national disgrace” by the lawyer for one victim’s family.

Jones has now requested a meeting with Chief Constable Crowther, seeking “reassurances over the level of resource and staff being committed to this important and high-profile case”.

Jones – who continues to lobby for the implementation of the full set of RAIB safety recommendations for the tram network – has also visited the tram depot at Therapia Lane. Her meeting with TOL executives included an update on new safety measures across the Tramlink network, plus a demonstration of the driver training simulator.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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